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THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS
Extended Cut

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Chow Yun-Fat, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker, Jurgen Prochnow, Kenneth Tsang
Director:  Antoine Fuqua
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Sony
Features:  Two Featurettes
Length:  96 Minutes
Release Date: 
April 25, 2006

“The boy will die, John…as well as your family.”

“Not in YOUR lifetime.”

Film ***1/2

The Replacement Killers was the film that officially introduced Chow Yun-Fat to American audiences, along with the true signature of modern Hong Kong action films in the style of John Woo.  It was unfairly dismissed by a number of critics who didn’t seem to have an appreciation for the Asian tradition of action which bore it.  I proclaimed it a terrific and dynamic piece of entertainment almost five years ago, and I continue to do so today.

The main difference is, now that I review this movie for the third time, I don’t have to dig deep into my Asian cinema vernacular to acquaint potential readers to star Chow Yun-Fat.  With the success of films like Anna and the King, and the international mega-hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, American audiences now know what Hong Kong fans have known for years, which is that Yun-Fat is a bona fide movie star, in any country or language.

But his isn’t the only star to shine in this picture.  Director Antoine Fuqua made his feature film debut with The Replacement Killers, and I still consider it one of the most impressive cinematic debuts of the last quarter century.  Armed with a knowledge and appreciation for Yun-Fat’s work with John Woo (and with Woo serving as executive producer), Fuqua turned an essentially Asian action story and gave it an American sensibility, without sacrificing any of the cultural or artistic influences that has kept Hong Kong the action cinema capital of the world for so long.

Fans of Woo will recognize the stylings:  ballet-like gunplay, an almost over-the-top sense of choreography and camera movement, with each heightening the excitement of the other, and of course, lots and lots of violence.  Nobody goes down with one shot in this kind of film…expect each victim to get a generous helping of double-barreled handgun output, with copious amounts of blood on top.  It’s the kind of imagery that shows violence in all its horrible reality…but manages to stay on this side of entertaining.

Yun-Fat plays John Lee, a quiet but deadly assassin owing Asian crime boss Wei (Tsang) one last assignment before earning his freedom.  That job is to kill the little boy of a cop (Rooker) who had in turn killed Wei’s own son in a police raid.  Lee, however, does not enjoy his work, and finds his conscience won’t allow him to carry out the awful deed.  “There will be consequences,” he muses.

Knowing Wei will go after his own family in Hong Kong, Lee seeks out the help of Meg Coburn (Sorvino) to acquire a forged passport so he can return to Asia and protect them.  But it won’t be that easy.  Wei has called out two replacement killers—men of equal skill to John, but with no qualms about pulling the trigger.  John and Meg are soon up to their eyeballs in trouble, as the replacements’ task is to kill them, kill the cop’s son, and kill John’s family.

The bullets and the blood fly in fast and furious sequences that are stylish and astounding.  Fuqua knows what his star is capable of, and makes the most out of Yun-Fat’s acrobatic abilities.  He keeps his camera work fast, smooth, and dizzying, elevating already terrific action sequences to new heights.  With the combination of the best that Asian and American action films have to offer, I sincerely believed at the time that Antoine Fuqua was scripting a new vocabulary for the genre.  Had more people appreciated this movie for what it was, I still think he might have done just that.

But as our country grows more familiar and comfortable with the Hong Kong way of crafting a picture, I would urge action fans who treaded lightly before to give The Replacement Killers another try.  It’s pure movie dynamite from beginning to end, with two great stars and a visionary new director who pulled the best that two different sides of the globe had to offer and melded them into one terrific piece of entertainment.

Video ****

I thought Sony's initial release of The Replacement Killers to be one of the best looking DVDs I’d ever seen.  I still think so.  This new extended cut version cannot improve upon the unimprovable, but it can replicate it perfectly, which is what it did.  This film is a bonanza of rich, wildly varying and deeply saturated colors from start to finish, which is part of the pleasure of watching it.  Cinematographer Peter Lyons Collister realized a spectacular visual world for Fuqua, and every bit of it renders perfectly to disc.  Colors are true and pure throughout, with no distortions and no bleeding, and images are sharply defined and detailed from start to finish.  There is no grain or compression evident to mar the pictures, even in darker scenes.  Reference quality all the way.

Audio ****

The 5.1 soundtrack is just as explosive and dynamic as ever.  When the action stars, the fury flies from all directions, and you won’t feel safe sitting in the middle of it!  Crossovers are smooth, and both stages are used to full dynamic capabilities in recreation the sounds of gunplay, car crashes…even the terrific and often thunderous musical score, which also keeps the subwoofer line engaged.  An explosive listening experience!

Features **

If you're looking for extras, opt for the previous Special Edition release.  All that's here are a making-of featurette and a look at Chow Yun-Fat going Hollywood.

Summary:

The Replacement Killers is a stylish, electrifying action film that combines the best of Asian and American sensibilities.  It not only boasts the American debut of Chow Yun-Fat, it also marks the impressive entry into features for Antoine Fuqua, whose cinematic stylings and keen sense of action resulted in a film that was certainly a lot better than it was given credit for.

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